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opinion

A dairy farmer pours out milk from a bottle in Carrying Place, Ont., on March 24, 2020.ALEX FILIPE/Reuters

Dear President Joe Biden,

Canadians are delighted that your bilateral bonding session with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repaired the rapport between our two countries. It warmed our hearts to hear you say that the United States has “no closer friend than Canada.”

We’ve always been fond of our American cousins, but your predecessor (he who must not be named) had us worried that our special relationship was devolving into a one-sided affection. Now that we’ve reconciled, could you please do a solid for ordinary Canadians?

It would be swell if you could turn up the heat on your bosom buddy Justin to do away with our protectionist supply management system for dairy. Consider it a favour to Canadian consumers who are fed up with overpaying for milk, cheese and, of course, your favourite food, ice cream.

Your country’s recent complaint about Canada’s uncompetitive dairy market – the first enforcement action under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) – is a promising start.

There are accusations that Canada is violating USMCA by monkeying around with dairy tariff-rate quotas, or TRQs, that give American farmers a toehold in the Canadian market. Most Canadians don’t have the first clue about TRQs or what the agreement’s fine print says about their allocation. But what we do know is that Americans still can’t sell us a wide array of dairy products. That’s just wrong.

I know some folks are putting pressure on you to drop this trade challenge. Perhaps you’re also tempted to quash it since the enforcement action was filed by former U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer. Not only did he file it in December, before your inauguration as president, but Mr. Lighthizer worked for that other guy.

However, that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing it. If you won’t do it for the sake of American farmers, do it for Canadian consumers. We’re tired of being hosed for basic groceries.

As you know, supply management fixes the prices for milk, eggs and poultry in Canada. In the case of dairy, prearranged milk prices mean that excess milk is dumped when the market is oversupplied. What a waste.

Logic dictates that prices should fall when there’s surplus supply, but that’s not the Canadian way. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has estimated that supply management costs Canadian consumers an average of $2.6-billion a year. Another study by the Montreal Economic Institute found that supply management pushes up to 190,000 Canadians into poverty.

Now consider the enormous financial stress on families because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A global health crisis and job losses are creating severe strains. Canadians are already being warned that the average family will pay up to an extra $695 for food this year.

Sure, our grocery bills cover a lot more that just dairy, eggs and poultry, but there’s no doubt that getting rid of supply management would provide broad-based relief.

Look, this might be the one instance in which Canadians actually support the notion of Buy American. A lack of competition is the only reason that cheese smuggling occurs across our common border.

Sadly, we Canadians can’t count on our own legislators to have our backs. Not only has Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party vowed to continue defending supply management, but a private member’s bill sponsored by Bloc Québécois MP Louis Plamondon seeks to block federal negotiators from granting foreigners further tariff-free access to our protected markets in future trade deals.

The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance is warning that such a prohibition on making concessions would result in suboptimal trade agreements that shortchange Canadians.

Make no mistake, if this short-sighted private member’s bill passes, it will become your problem, too, especially if Americans ever want to modernize USMCA. Consider this: The ink is barely dry on that deal, but your farmers are already complaining about Canada. An overhaul seems inevitable.

Ottawa talks a lot of malarkey on supply management. Our parliamentarians seem intent on maintaining this outdated system even though it hurts most Canadians.

Imagine the indignity of being overcharged for your favourite chocolate-chip ice cream. Regrettably, that’s our cold reality.

We beg you not to abandon this trade challenge. A lack of market competition hurts us all.

Your Canadian chums are counting on you.

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